2014 Brewers Position Preview: Top of the Rotation | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Starters: Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse
Backup: Marco Estrada, Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg
AAA depth: Mike Fiers, Hiram Burgos
The Future: Jimmy Nelson

Yovani Gallardo is the Opening Day starter for Your Milwaukee Brewers for the fifth year in a row. If you care much about such things, that may have come as a surprise after the year Gallardo had in 2013, the fact that Kyle Lohse outperformed him last season and the addition of Matt Garza.

While Yo is taking the mound in the team’s first game of the season, it’s safe to say he’s no longer the team’s best starting pitcher. This could be considered a good thing — after all, even at his best, he was “just” a solid #2 starter, an above-average guy who wasn’t quite a star. The Brewers have added two pitchers in the past two years who could be considered better. Since depth is good and quality depth is even better, it’s fine that Yo is no longer the staff’s top starter.

But there’s still a level of concern with Yo, because him losing the title as the best pitcher on the team isn’t just because Mark Attanasio likes signing pitchers late in the offseason. There’s also been a noticeable decline in more than one statistical category.

FB Velo

Gallardo is only 28 this season, so seeing that kind of decline is a little concerning. Last year was the worst of his career (on and off the field) and with free agency on the horizon, he needs a rebound season to rebuild value and the Brewers need a rebound season from him if they have any hopes of keeping up in the NL Central.

For all of the hand-wringing over the Lohse signing last spring, he turned in a solid on-field performance in 2013. If you look at it in a vacuum, Lohse was well worth the money the Brewers paid him last season. Of course, the problem is that nothing happens in vacuum, and money wasn’t the only cost the Brewers paid to get him. The front office has given many quotes this offseason about the compensation system and their views on draft picks, and it’s pretty clear that they see picks as lottery tickets and future trade assets, rather than the equivalent of a firstborn child.

While everyone will be asking what-if about that lost draft pick for years to come, the Brewers are happy with how Lohse performed in 2013 and expect him to put up similar numbers this year. There seems to be less worry about Lohse falling off than Gallardo, which is interesting considering that Lohse will be 35 this season. While last year’s numbers weren’t as good as they were during his last season in St. Louis, they did bear a resemblance to his 2011 season, which provides some optimism that his late-career blossoming is more than just a one or two year fluke.

There are obviously still concerns with Lohse moving forward. He’s never been a strikeout pitcher, and his strikeout numbers did dip with the move from St. Louis to Milwaukee. You’re going to get a lot of balls put into play against him, and with the defensive alignment the Brewers will be fielding this year, a lot of hits-that-should-be-outs are going to end up sneaking through. That leads to longer innings, shorter outings and more work for the bullpen. A rise in Lohse’s home run rate was also to be expected last season with the move to Miller Park, but an increase in his HR/FB rate of over 2.5% is a little alarming. When you have Lohse’s stuff, there are going to be times when you get hit hard, and in Milwaukee, more of those hard-hit balls are likely to carry over the fence.

If there’s one fault with the top of the Brewers’ rotation (okay, there’s more than one, but this is the big one), it’s that they’re going to give up plenty of home runs. Gallardo surrendered 18 last year (actually down from 26 in 2012). Lohse gave up 26. Matt Garza gave up 20 last year, and he played half a season in Wrigley Field. It’s a good bet that number will rise with a full-time move to a homer-happy home park.

The home runs are just one of the concerns with Garza, and the others — namely health and his bunt defense — have been talked about at length in posts and podcasts since the signing. So much has been made about the negatives and his poor spring outings (which he’s openly said he couldn’t care less about) that it’s easy to forget that he’s a really good pitcher. The durability questions have only truly started with the past couple seasons — from 2008 to 2011, he posted at least 180 IP every year, and unlike Gallardo, there hasn’t been a noticeable drop in his stuff. Could Garza’s arm fall off at some point this year? Sure. But so could Gallardo’s, Lohse’s or Wily Peralta’s. Pitchers get hurt, and the Brewers’ medical staff — regarded as one of the best in the game, and the same staff that red flagged Shaun Marcum before he signed with the Mets last year and got hurt again — gave the go-ahead to sign Garza to the largest free agent deal in team history. If he’s on the mound, he’ll likely be the team’s most effective starter.

Best Case Scenario:

For the first time since 2011, Matt Garza stays healthy for an entire season. Yovani Gallardo corrects his downward slide and rebounds to have a year that looks more like 2010 or 2011 than 2013. Kyle Lohse turns in another 200 solid innings while seeing his HR/FB rate normalize back to where it was his last few years in St. Louis. Even in a best-case scenario nobody here is going to post Cy Young-level numbers, but they could approach 600 combined innings, which would put less pressure on the younger guys at the bottom of the rotation to perform while also keeping the bullpen from getting overworked.

Worst Case Scenario:

Garza’s elbow explodes in year one of the biggest free agent contract in team history. Gallardo’s decline is real, and all of those innings at a young age start to catch up to him. Lohse officially runs out of any #CardinalsDevilMagic he may have still had in his system and becomes totally and completely average. The rotation as a whole looks a lot like it did in the first half last year, before the second-half push brought their numbers back to respectable levels.

Most Likely Scenario:

Garza throws at least 100-120 innings, and Gallardo struggles with pitch efficiency once again but puts together another solid-to-slightly-above-average season (at least well enough to make picking up the option for 2015 an easy decision). Kyle Lohse puts up another solid season for a #3 starter, but starts to show some signs of decline in his age-35 season. Combine those three, and the Brewers’ rotation as a whole rates as solid, but doesn’t quite have the high level of performance necessary to carry the team into the postseason.

Gallardo PECOTA projection: 161 IP, 3.52 ERA, 3.63 FIP
Gallardo ZiPS projection: 185.3 IP, 3.88 ERA, 3.80 FIP

Lohse PECOTA projection: 166 IP, 4.12 ERA, 4.35 FIP
Lohse ZiPS projection: 165.3 IP, 3.86 ERA, 4.15 FIP

Garza PECOTA projection: 133 IP, 3.76 ERA, 4.14 FIP
Garza ZiPS projection: 153.3 IP, 3.70 ERA, 3.65 FIP

So far in the series:

 3/10: Ryan previewed the catcher position

3/11: Curt previewed first base

3/12: Jonathan previewed second base

3/13: Steve previewed third base

3/14: Vineet previewed short stop

3/17: Adam previewed left field

3/18: Alex previewed center field

3/19: Ryan previewed right field

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